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2011 POLLS: LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD

By NBF News
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Democracy is an all important and enduring experience. Arguably, it is the ideal system of government. But that depends on a number of factors. These include the commitment and unflappable resilience of the people, the capacity and competence of the support institutions that will make it work, as well as the quality of leadership that man those institutions.

The level of independence of the institutions that can ensure engender credible and transparent electoral process is determined by the level of interference or support, from the executive arm of government. In our kind of democracy, the extent of meddlesomeness in the affairs of the electoral body has proved over the years, to be the Achilles heels in our quest for credible polls. Of course, one cannot rule out the antics the different actors in the democratic process on play.

Put together, the organizational dynamics in all of these reminds one of that phenomenon in psychology known as folie a`deux, in which, strong, overbearing personalities overreach themselves, and in the process, make others living under the same premises accept their own delusional behaviour. This is very crucial in assessing the extent of 'success' or otherwise of the Independent National Electoral Commission in the general elections, which hopefully will reach the finishing line today, April 26. This is why every country is seen as its own laboratory of democracy. It's so because the ultimate success is achieved when all in the electoral process join hands for the ultimate good of the process.

To that extent, democracy and elections are somewhat like a football match. It needs a team spirit. But beyond that, it requires more than 22 players, the referee and the linesmen. As INEC draws the curtain on the elections hopefully, today, with the governorships races and state Houses of Assembly polls, it has been a three-week of enduring experience for all. It has been a long haul as well for INEC, and in particular, its chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega. After a nervy start that led to the botched National Assembly elections on April and the 'storm' that almost consumed the process and the leadership of INEC, time was anything but good for Jega.

There is no doubt that the chairmanship of INEC is not a job for a wimp. And anyone at that top level who manages to conduct a fair election must pat himself on the back. Perhaps that's exactly what Jega is doing now. But, it is reasonable to withhold the final cheer until the final outcome of today's polls.

The precarious situation in some Northern states where violence erupted last week after the declaration of Jonathan as the President-Elect may diminish INEC's claims to credible elections.

However, in assessing the elections, it is instructive to note that few civilian presidents in Nigeria have sought to define themselves using their office and the promises made as the incumbent president Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. When he assumed the presidency last year in quite unusual circumstances that could be called an equivalent of a meltdown. It was without our mandate. At best, Jonathan was an 'accidental president', or to paraphrase the words of Lyndan Johnson, who succeeded John F.

Kennedy in somewhat similar circumstances as Jonathan, 'an illegal ursper, a naked man without presidential covering, and a pretender to the throne'. Only through the old fashioned and apocryphal 'doctrine of necessity', did Jonathan gain presidential covering. Until then, he could only request, he could not give executive orders. In the terrible wake of the Yar'Adua's hospitalization and eventual death, he acted just as an apprentice and caretaker, figuratively speaking.

But not anymore. By no margin for errors, he won the presidential election of April 16, with an unbelievable votes of over 22 million. Looking back, I doubt if many people were surprised at his 'landslide' victory. But it was the hefty votes credited to him that surprised a lot of folks. There are doubts, though no iron-cast evidence, that the votes from the South South and South East did not reflect the facts on ground. I am not sure. But winning with honour is what makes a mandate election sure. That cannot however justify the orgy of violence that erupted in some states in the North. However, the tendency to win at all costs has made elections in our country an outright war as if they were conventional battles with arms and ammunitions deployed at will. It will be simplistic for the President-Elect to think, as he said, that he has 'no enemies to fight'. He has a handful of them, indeed.

The truth however is that, against Jonathan, other presidential candidates were not up against a star. Neither were they against a real performer, or a man with visionary leadership qualities. Rather, they were up against a public mood soaked with emotional sentimentalism. Let the president not be deceived by the concocted images of messianism. He has only been challenged to prove his enemies wrong. One of the things the election of Jonathan has done is to confirm the luxury of operating from the position of strength against those operating from virtually nowhere but with an eye on the plum position. Again, the president-elect has confirmed (if any one was in doubt) the myth of incumbency, that blackhole that astronomers have always tried to make us believe is a force so large and so inscrutable to outsiders and capable of crushing anyone who stands in its way.

If credit for the elections must go to INEC, it must be understood within the context that made it happen. INEC under the leadership of Jega is not just lucky, it is blessed. The commission has been so fortunate to have a president who is less nosy, less meddlesome, less overbearing than his predecessors. Obasanjo, as President did interfere in the affair of the commission under Prof. Maurice Iwu. Credit must go to Jonathan for this, for all the moral and financial support given to INEC. Jega at some point acted like Oliver twist, but the President and the National Assembly never turn him down. They reasoned with Jega. Never before had had an electoral body being obliged this kind of financial and other logistics support as the present INEC. Maybe because the task before Jega and the promises made by the President were enormous. For INEC, the wisdom was 'to whom much is given, much is also expected'.

But that is not to diminish the successes recorded by Jega. Despite the initial failure, INEC was able to quickly learn the lessons from that failure. Learning from the botched NASS election of April 2, became the most important capacities for INEC to improve. What happened on April 2, amounts to what psychologists call fundamental attribution errors. That false start became an inevitable cul-de-sac on the road of the improvement INEC made in subsequent elections.

Looking forward now, especially with the governorships and state legislatures' polls holding today, requires vigilance on the part of INEC and the security agencies. This so because, being so crucial and possibly, the kind of elections, in which the trinity of money, rigging and violence will likely rear their ugly heads, our politicians might take advantage of that and other existing cleavages and fault lines that divide our people to rubbish whatever gains that have being made until today. Thuggery and rigging in particular, induce their own sense of bizarre 'glamour' like the infamous Jack the Ripper. In the states, some governors have sworn to win by all means even when they are resented by their people.

Our politicians are yet to learn how to handle losing in an election. Which is why INEC should not assume yet that the 'mission is accomplished'. This is the time for credible people to emerge at the state levels. This is the time to begin to heal the wounds in our land. We need to be brought together. We need to regain a sense of common national purpose. Attending to the needs of our people have become imperative. Governance is a human enterprise.

For many years now, the politicians have lied to the people who elected them to seek and care for their welfare. Trust makes people have faith in their leaders. Sadly, Nigerian politicians have squandered that trust in pursuit of self-interest. That's the sobering story of our democracy. Looking forward entails learning the hard lessons of these elections.